Ubisoft Deploys Autodesk Tools on ‘Splinter Cell Blacklist’

Ubisoft is one of the most popular developers in the gaming industry today with credits on franchises like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Far Cry.” A longtime Autodesk customer, Ubisoft is known for its consistent high-quality gaming experiences, which is once again featured in Tom Clancy's Splinter CellBlacklist, released August 20, 2013. Developed at the Ubisoft Toronto studio, this sixth installment of Tom Clancy’s award-winning “Splinter Cell” franchise features an intriguing new story told through stunning graphics and animation.

Available across multiple platforms, the stealth/action-adventure title takes players on missions around the world, as they race against the clock to stop  the Blacklist – a deadly series of escalating attacks on U.S. interests led by a group of terrorists called “The Engineers.” Sam Fisher is the leader of the newly formed Fourth Echelon unit: a special operations unit that answers solely to the President of the United States. Sam and his team must hunt down these terrorists by any means necessary, and stop The Blacklist countdown before it reaches zero.

To ensure that Splinter CellBlacklistwould uphold the franchise’s high standards for graphics and look as realistic as possible, Ubisoft Toronto relied on a talented in-house team using technology from Autodesk. Autodesk MotionBuilder, 3ds Max and Scaleform helped Ubisoft Toronto develop realistic gameplay, detailed characters and environments, and a UI that enhance the overall gaming experience.  

Creating Realistic Characters with MotionBuilder

“Splinter Cell Blacklist” boasts true-to-life characters created by Ubisoft Toronto artists with a combination of performance capture techniques and tools like Autodesk MotionBuilder and 3ds Max. To achieve a realistic look and feel for each character, including Sam Fisher, Ubisoft enlisted the expertise of professional mo-cap actors. Their work is especially evident in gameplay as Sam moves with unmatched fluidity and efficiency.

“Sam is at the heart of Splinter Cell Blacklist,” explained Ubisoft Toronto art director Scott Lee. “For us, that meant characterization, to a kind of a degree that we haven't had before. There was a big push to have his abilities studied and extremely rooted in reality. This meant we had to capture actors together in the same scene as well as complete body mo-cap, voice capture and facial performance  – all in one set.”

Ubisoft’s performance capture facility in Toronto proved a perfect setting for the task at hand. Using a filmic pipeline supported by Autodesk MotionBuilder, Ubisoft was able to simultaneously capture enormous amounts of raw data from performance actors and transform the data into something impressive and polished, import it into 3ds Max and manipulate it to achieve the desired aesthetic.

Andy Wilson, producer, Ubisoft Toronto, said, “MotionBuilder has a huge amount of functionality that we can't get from our own internal tools or from really anything else on the market.”

The team created a specialized process through which they’d capture the face, voice and body of the actors all at once. Once capture was complete, they brought the footage into MotionBuilder and the camera animator was then able to shoot the scene using multiple cameras. After shooting various angles and perspectives, Ubisoft’s team rendered them out to the scene. All footage was compiled, sent to the editor and integrated into the final scene through a process in MotionBuilder’s story mode.

Dave Rignaelli,  technical director, Ubisoft Toronto, shared, “We were able to automate a lot of the process through Python, where we would just put the files in, and write a script that would automatically cut things up, move things all around and re-line things up. It was really powerful having the ability to do that.” 

Mapping Out Worlds with 3ds Max

Comprising several missions, each set in a different region of the world, “Splinter CellBlacklist” provides gamers with multiple routes through which they can achieve various objectives. Populating each region called for an enormous amount of content creation­ – for which Ubisoft turned to Autodesk 3ds Max (part of Ubisoft’s pipeline since the inception of its Montreal studio in 1997).

“This is the biggest and most ambitious ‘Splinter Cell’ ever, and a priority for us was to give to players real choices, which is supported by the way that we built the maps,” Wilson shared. “3ds Max is a key part of our pipeline. As we built maps and content for the single player, co-op and multi-player, it was one of the building blocks that allowed our artists to create believable worlds.”

Designing a Unique UI with Scaleform

The latest installment of the game also features a cool, new UI that played a key role in developing the game’s visual direction. To create a streamlined look for all of the game’s UI and other elements, Ubisoft relied on an integrated workflow comprising Adobe Flash tools and Autodesk Scaleform.

Matthew Severin, Ubisoft Torontoprogrammer shared, “Scaleform gave us a lot of flexibility in how we brought elements into the game; our artists had access to the full range of tools that Flash supplies, so they could work within Flash and also create the distinct look that they wanted for their game elements. Then it was a very simple process of getting that look into the game.”

For more information about the game and development team behind it, be sure to check out: